By: Grant Walker
Vic Chesnutt/Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band
02.13.08 :: The Paradiso :: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Touring in support of his latest record, North Star Deserter (released 9/11/07 on Constellation), Vic Chesnutt began his European run at Amsterdam's Paradiso. While often a solo performer, this time around producer Jem Cohen convinced Chesnutt to bring along a few friends.
Patrons who arrived at the venue at the allotted time were greeted by displaced youths, bored middle-agers and chatty but less-than-amused 20 and 30-somethings. The Grote Zaal of The Paradiso was nearly empty, and without an opening act to get them in the mood, the horde was getting restless. Just minutes later, Chesnutt and friends took the stage. I hear you asking, "Who were those friends?" None other than Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band, known to most simply as Silver Mt. Zion. It was Cohen's idea for Chesnutt to get together with other artists from Constellation Records, the label who put out North Star Deserter, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Bruce Cawdron, Chad Jones, Nadia Moss of Frankie Sparo and Fugazi's Guy Picciotto to provide a fuller live sound. In typical post-rock fashion, the looming presence of swooping, screeching violins, flailing guitars and crashing cymbals - all tied together by Chesnutt's nasally, Cat Stevens-esque vocals - make this new musical adventure truly his best. With six members of the Zion crew fleshing out Chesnutt's simple, bare bones songs, we were treated to a lavish barrage of orchestral greatness.
As Chesnutt started strumming a simple melody on his acoustic, he hummed quietly to himself and softly said, "Ya'll are lucky motherfuckers 'cause it's the first show of the tour." Lucky indeed. Much like what the Internet had been telling me lately, Vic Chesnutt's show had a bigger, more accomplished sound. The band adds so many layers to his slow, drone-y lyrics that it makes one wonder why he hadn't invited them along for the ride before now.
Vic Chesnutt is, on a normal day, a laidback, quiet gig. But when Silver Mt. Zion roared to life behind him the atmosphere changed and the bar staff was forced to grab their earplugs. With songs full of loneliness, lamentation and penance, the man seemed to be asking for forgiveness for past sins. He was sad, witty, fragile and altogether poetic, and with two additional guitarists added to his acoustic, the onus was no longer on him to be the sole provider of the melody. As soon as he realized this, he screamed into the microphone, letting his vocals eek out all their true potential.
Starting with "Everything I Say," he ran through many tracks off his new album, from mellow outings like "Warm" and "Rustic City Fathers" to powerful, orchestral opuses like "Everything I Say," "Debriefing" and "Glossolalia." He even performed a duet with Zion violinist Jessica Moss, a cover of Nina Simone's "Fodder On Her Wings," which made many a heart flutter in delight. Closing the night with a massive gong, Chesnutt and Co. hit us over the head with a smashing version of the Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" that got the entire audience, including the bar staff, singing along in unison.
Despite a small crowd, the reaction to Chesnutt's simple melodies backed by Zion's overpowering, multi-layered arrangements was just as powerful as if the venue was packed to the rafters. This was an amazing night full of brilliant post-rock topped with Vic Chesnutt's soothing vocals. I know it's only February, but in my books, this was definitely one of the top gigs of the year.
JamBase | Holland
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